Russian hospitality

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Mike Wootton

Mike Wootton

Faith, Hope and Charity—three martyred saints and the prime theological virtues of the Roman Catholic Church. Let’s have a look at a microcosm of the “hope” part of it in a practical sense.

I was a guest at an event at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. The hospitality management students put on a “Russian Service” and what a good job they made of it, very professional, they really wanted to get it right, and they did.

Being, if not a Russian at least, a Northern European [and the United Kingdom and Russia do have some strong historical links], I had to “say a few words” and I talked a bit about the Russian hospitality industry which is still, to a significant degree, mired in its communist era service quality past—very poor quality service, very limited selection of available menu items, and interestingly, no service quality grading system. But Russia is now in the process of developing more than 160 large hotel developments which will produce 50,000 more rooms to add to the 500,000 of varying quality that already exist, and it is recognized that there is a significant skill shortage, thanks to the old communist era attitudes to “service” of any sort—“can I have . . . ?” “Nyet”, “ok, well, can I have . . . ?” “Nyet” and so on and so forth—even getting a waiter’s attention could take 20 minutes and involve walking over to them to interrupt their chatting. I had to tell the students that they should seriously consider Russia as a prospect for future employment opportunity, some Filipino smiles and general helpfulness would go down very well over there among the rather dour Russians.

But here’s the point. We have keen students studying in overcrowded facilities but still giving of their youthfully enthusiastic best, what can they hope for in the way of a postgraduate career path? Not a lot in the Philippines: get out, go abroad to some place where the education can be properly utilized. Stay here in the Philippines and if you are lucky enough to get a job at all, then it will, in all likelihood, be something well below the level to which you have been educated and guided to aspire to. A four-year degree [and most are four years]in the hospitality area may get you a job as a waiter or waitress, but the likelihood of its propelling somebody to be the manager of the Peninsula is exceedingly slim. Of course, this is the Philippines and most people know that regardless of educational qualifications, opportunity is limited. In fact, often it is a considerable disadvantage particularly in a Philippine business environment [education encourages people to think rationally!]. What is impressive though is that these undergraduates and, of course, their families still have high hopes that a good education will produce a better life.

Education within the national budget accounts for nearly twice as much as its next closest rival, the Department of Public Works and Highway and uses about P238 billion or 13 percent of the total national budget, which compares reasonably well with the UK’s 12-percent education allocation [Philippine peso equivalent is P6 trillion] within its own national budget. “But education spending in the Philippines has to be increased to keep up with economic growth.” But “hey, wait a minute!”—there are already between 500,000 and a million new graduates coming into the employment market annually, and only about 30 percent of whom will find any employment at all, let alone employment at home, where they can maximize the skills they have been taught. The focus for them must be overseas employment—let them contribute to the growth of other nations’ gross domestic product, and let’s statistically pretend that their overseas earnings reflect Philippine GDP growth.

It is a difficult job anywhere to align educational targets with the future requirements of the national economy; the time lag makes it almost impossible to be very accurate at least in the commercial sectors. I remember a survey done a few years ago of university students’ job aspirations, which showed an overwhelming majority of them (over 80 percent) expecting that they would leave the Philippines to work abroad.

It’s all a bit of a muddle. Economic growth forecasts indicate a continuance of about 7-percent annual GDP growth so “we must spend more on education in order to sustain the momentum,” but alas the growth doesn’t produce jobs so we end up with yet more disappointed graduates to feed into the overseas Filipino worker community, but the Philippines education system does not turn out people with the specific training required by the more sophisticated overseas employers.

So to put on a Russian Service is an idea that matches the real need, albeit there may have been an element of fortuitous coincidence within it! Perhaps in order to add a bit of entrepreneurial flair to the mix, they should consider opening a Russian restaurant in Manila as, since “Kalinka” seems to have vanished, one does not know it exists . . . and there are Russian tourists being imported to the Philippines . . .

Mike can be contacted at mawootton@gmail.com

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